Bikram Yoga has been around since the 1970s but “hot yoga” has become an even hotter fitness trend recently as more people sweat it out for mind, body and spiritual benefits.
Radio 4BC presenter Loretta Ryan is a self-confessed fitness fanatic so when she turned up for her first lesson in Bikram Yoga she wasn’t expecting to pass out. But that is just what happened halfway into her session. Bikram Yoga typically is a gruelling 90-minute class of challenging poses, arguably a tough workout under normal conditions, but the room is also heated up to 40°C with 40 per cent humidity. Ryan’s class was told that if they felt weak or woozy they should sit down, breathe and not panic. “But I did panic,” says Ryan. “I didn’t know how to breathe properly.”
Ryan was encouraged to go along to Bikram Yoga North Brisbane, at Nundah, by a work colleague but was surprised by how much she struggled in the intense heat and wasn’t sure she wanted to do it again. “They say to come back in 24 hours. So I did go back the next day, I went back in and finished the class,” she says. Now she can’t get enough of it, attending four classes a week, sometimes even going twice a day. “I love it, I love the feeling,” she says. “The heat helps you sweat out all those toxins in the body and I find, too, that when you do all that you don’t want to put any bad food or alcohol back in.”
While Bikram Yoga has been around since the ’70s the first Bikram studio opened in Brisbane in 2004 and “hot yoga” has become a hotter fitness trend over the last five years, with many Hollywood stars raving about its benefits; Jennifer Aniston credits her toned figure to Bikram, George Clooney is reportedly a devotee and Ashton Kutcher has incorporated it into his fitness regime.
Bikram Yoga North Brisbane teacher Rachel Blackman has seen classes at her studio double in little more than two years. She says it has become so popular because anyone at any age or fitness level can do it. She claims it leaves people feeling detoxified, re-energised, revitalised and reorganised and the poses are easy to follow.
Each class consists of 26 sequential postures and two breathing exercises taken from ancient Hatha Yoga, which has been practised for more than 5000 years. The sequence is performed twice; the first set to warm up the body and the second to work a deeper stretch. According to Blackman, no matter where you are in the world, each class will follow the same sequence and postures, making it easy to follow in any country when travelling.
If you’re prepared to work hard and sweat a lot, Loretta Ryan says it’s a great workout for the body and the mind. “It’s really good for the mind to focus on just yourself for 90 minutes and not be thinking about what’s going on in the world. It’s turning your mind off and just thinking about the yoga; that’s a challenge but it’s good for you.”
There are also numerous physical health benefits, says Blackman, including increased flexibility, improved circulation, relief from pain and injury, weight loss, improved function of internal body systems, normalised sleep patterns and raised energy levels.
Ryan has certainly noticed the benefits. “I’ve become more flexible. I also used to get a bit clogged up with my sinuses and I really haven’t had any trouble with that since [I started]. It’s just a good stress release as well, you just feel more relaxed every day; when I come to work I don’t get as stressed out or worried,” she says.
Even though it might seem exhausting at first, Ryan recommends people starting out to stick at it. “People are going to go to their first class and say ‘I can’t do this’, but you just get addicted to it and you’ve just got to go back. You go home and feel really good afterwards.”
Blackman also advises first timers to drink one to two litres of water before they go, wear light clothing that does not go below the knees and avoid eating big meals three hours before or after the class.